I was going to try to come up with a lighter way to title this post, but I decided to be assertive and finally write what I mean. The New England Patriots deadline deal to swing Aqib Talib from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was an excellent one, but Talib is getting too much credit for why the deal ended up solidifying the New England Patriots secondary during the second-half of the season. Talib is a quality cornerback in this league, but I think people are going too overboard with their praise for Talib.
First off, let’s take a look at what adding Talib allowed the Patriots to do on defense. With a legitimate starting corner outside the numbers in the fold, the Patriots were able to move Kyle Arrington to the inside. Now this might seem insignificant, but it was actually a tremendous move for the Pats. Arrington is actually a better nickel corner than average in this league, and he allowed just a 33% completion percentage when thrown at in games in which he started in the slot (per the Pro Football Focus).
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But when he was playing on the outside, Arrington allowed a quarterback rating over 90 in nine of 12 games, which is obviously horrendous. Arrington just doesn’t have the skill-set to play on the outside, but he has the ideal tools to succeed in the slot with physical play and excellent run defense. But that physicality and gambling kills him on the outside, and it’s what makes him so burn prone outside the numbers. The Patriots were making Arrington do things on the outside that he just wasn’t capable of doing, and that’s because they really didn’t have another option. Would you prefer Sterling Moore outside the numbers?
For a full breakdown on Arrington, refer to my opinion piece on him yesterday.
The acquisition of Talib also coincided with the Patriots commitment to play Devin McCourty as a free safety, which is also a more natural fit for him. Make no mistake, although he was bashed by radio talk hosts and some fans, McCourty was actually plenty good at corner. But at safety, that man is probably elite. His coverage skills at corner translate beautifully to safety, and he has the instincts and ball skills to hawk interceptions. McCourty is also an excellent run-stopper, which is even more important at safety than it is at the cornerback position.
Here is an opinion piece I wrote on McCourty last month.
The true impact of adding Aqib Talib to the New England Patriots organization is seen in how two starting players in the secondary were able to move into positions where they were much more successful in. This effect is something that I have been preaching for a while now, and I would even go as far to say that the Pats could have added any at least “league-average” starting corner outside the numbers and it would have had the same effect. That might be a little drastic, but I have some statistics to note with regards to Talib.
For all intents and purposes of this piece, I am only going to use Talib’s numbers from when he played with the New England Patriots in 2012. He did log in four games with the Buccaneers, but including those numbers actually bloats his yards per attempt against total from 8.3 to 9.6, It is in my best interest to remain as impartial as possible, because my goal here isn’t to rip apart Talib but rather to give a more broad perspective on Talib and the Pats secondary as opposed to saying, “Talib is an elite corner” or “Talib is complete trash”. It’s obvious that neither sides of it are true.
Anyway, yes Talib did allow 8.3 yards per attempt whilst with the Patriots and earned only about an average coverage grade for the season (I included his Bucs numbers because his coverage grades were actually higher with the Bucs despite the higher Y/A average). I actually trust PFF’s grades more than the numbers, because they are more objective than the stats. While that statement seems paradoxical at its root, it is difficult to assign the blame of a completion to one specific player so coverage stats are more misleading in general than a scouting overview of a player.
Either way, Aqib Talib wasn’t all that good for the Patriots in terms of actual player performance when you narrow it down to him. He was average at best in coverage, and his coverage grade for only the games he played with the Patriots was well below-average. I’m not allowed to give an exact total, but let’s just say that it was below what is considered “par” (0.0).
Talib, though, improved consistently throughout his time with the Patriots and his poor grade came from his first and third games with the team. While those can’t be discounted, they do have less of a theoretical impact (rust, adjusting to a new scheme must be accounted for). Against the Indianapolis Colts, Talib was burned to the tune of an astounding 141 yards in coverage, and he also laid an egg against the Miami Dolphins by allowing 16.8 yards per reception on five total catches allowed. Talib, in fact, started his Patriots career by putting together a string of six straight games with at least an 80.0 QB Rating allowed.
I discounted his eight snaps against the Jacksonville Jaguars in which he didn’t allow a catch on one target, because the sample size was too small. Against the Houston Texans in their rematch, the 90.5 QB Rating doesn’t tell the whole story. That’s a poor number, but Talib was assured in coverage and had about an average day. His first game against the Texans in which he shut down Andre Johnson before getting injured was easily his best game with the Patriots and his only positively graded game in coverage.
If you take a deep look at the advanced numbers and PFF’s grades, Aqib Talib’s 2012 season was actually just average. He has the potential to be a very good starting cornerback, but I don’t view him as anything more than a No. 2 CB. Talib lacks concentration, is burn-prone (averaged nearly 15 yards per reception on the season), but he does have plenty of physical tools and is another Patriots DB who is solid in run defense. Talib, however, is getting grossly overrated by some fans who are lauding him as a No. 1 corner.
You know who does deserve your praise? Rookie Alfonzo Dennard. He’s going to be a star someday and only allowed 50% of all passes to be thrown for him for a QB Rating under 80. Now that’s remarkable, especially for a rookie. 50%. Talib, by the way, allowed a 65% completion percentage and more yards per completion.
I think Talib is a solid No. 2 cornerback and would help the New England Patriots out, but the Pats are concerned with his work ethic and how he would respond to a mulit-year deal. That report, combined with the report that Talib would like to test free agency, makes me wonder if Talib is truly a priority for the Patriots. In my opinion, he’s more expendable than you think and has less value than Sebastian Vollmer and Wes Welker. First off, unlike those two, Talib isn’t even the most valuable player at his own position to the team (Dennard is). Secondly, tackle is a position with extremely little depth (it would be incredibly difficult to replace Vollmer) and Vollmer’s price tag is easy to get done. Thirdly, Welker is the most individually talented player set to hit free agency for the Patriots, even if he commands the highest contract and is the oldest of three.
But therein lies an argument, is the bottom-line more important or relative value? We all know that Wes Welker is going to be more expensive than Aqib Talib, but you have to look at it from a “value per worth” respective. I honestly think Talib’s asking price has a greater chance of being more bloated per his actual value than Welker’s does. Talib is a solid cornerback, but, again, there are still some concerns with him that don’t involve playing value in addition to the numbers and scouting data that back up the notion that Talib isn’t a great corner. He was responsible for the secondary’s turn-around, but McCourty and Arrington slipping into more comfortable positions was the biggest effect Talib had; not his own playing ability.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Talib was replacing some awful cornerback play, because Arrington replaced Moore in the slot (Arrington is clearly better) while Talib was thus replacing Arrington outside (we all know how huge of a difference that is, as Arrington is atrocious outside the numbers). I hope to see Talib back wearing the Flying Elvis on his helmet in 2013, but I don’t want to see the Patriots overpay for a player who could be overvaluing himself. Or, worse yet, other teams desperate for CB help will overvalue him. He can play better than he did this past season and has plenty of potential so he does deserve a solid contract, but let’s not go too far with our praise of Aqib Talib. After all, he did allow 8.3 yards per attempt in coverage and had just an “average” grade for the season.
Talib is worth re-signing, but the Pats could just as easily sign Chris Houston in free agency (just to toss out a random name of a solid No. 2 corner in this league who was graded out by PFF as a better CB also headed for UFA) and not a miss a beat. I realize this is an extremely controversial post for some, so I am open to all comments. Just please keep in mind that we all have differences of opinion, and I am always willing to listen to another viewpoint that’s out there. Let’s get some discussion flowing.
But here’s one thing I need to keep in mind. When Aqib Talib left the AFC Championship game with an injury, the Patriots secondary was clearly much worse off. But here’s one thing to also keep in mind, Talib’s injury made Kyle Arrington shift back outside and “dime” corner Marquice Cole had to face some very tough matchups in the slot that weren’t ideal for him. This typifies the argument in one game, and that’s the fact that Talib is important and a solid player, but his importance is because there isn’t that much talent around him and that Arrington’s skill-set is extremely specific (slot, not outside).
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.